Andalucia Masters: Sergio Garcia one behind as Victor Perez leads
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Last Updated: 27/06/19 7:44pm
Sergio Garcia made an excellent start to the defence of his Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters title as he fired a five-under 66 in the first round to sit just one shot behind early leader Victor Perez.
The 39-year-old Spaniard, whose foundation is hosting the event at Real Club Valderrama, produced some sublime wedge play in his flawless round, which featured five birdies.
Garcia, who also triumphed in the previous two stagings of the event in 2011 and 2017 - along with claiming 10 other top-10 finishes at Valderrama - started at the 10th and made stealthy progress on the back nine with birdies at the two par-fives, the 11th and 17th, in ideal scoring conditions.
A further birdie followed at the par-three third, where he hit his tee shot to 12 feet, and a superb approach to four feet set up another gain at the fifth.
The former Masters champion holed out from five feet for his fifth birdie of the day at the eighth, but he spurned a chance to claim a share of the lead when he missed from six feet at the ninth.
"I love this place, there's no doubt about that," said Garcia, who has missed the cut in three of his last four starts.
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"Today was a great round, probably the best I've felt in quite a while. Even though the conditions were great - there wasn't much wind and this course is so pure - you still have to hit the shots in the right places and to be able to go bogey-free here it's always a treat.
"It (Valderrama) kind of has something that helps me. It was a great first round but it was just the first round, we have to keep building on that and we're looking forward to a good week. You've got to go one step at a time, there's a lot of golf to be played."
Garcia's 66 left him just behind 26-year-old Frenchman Perez, who was also bogey-free in his 65 with three of his birdies coming in three holes from the ninth.
Further gains followed at the 15th and 17th to ensure he ended the day one ahead of a group of five which includes Garcia, Malaysia's Gavin Green, American Sihwan Kim, who had six birdies over the opening 11 holes, Swede Anton Karlsson and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who both bogeyed the 18th.
American Julian Suri, Masahiro Kawamura of Japan, Welshman Bradley Dredge and Matthieu Pavon of France are tied for seventh on four under.
South African Haydn Porteous is among 10 players on three under but he made his mark on the opening day with an albatross-two at the 17th.
World No 11 Jon Rahm has been under the weather a little this week but he was content with his start as he carded a two-under 69, mixing four bogeys with four birdies and an eagle at the 11th where he chipped in from greenside rough.
"Two under par is a great round and hopefully I can come out early in the morning and do what the leaders did and shoot something low," said Rahm.
"I think it's my first round under par here in a tournament. It feels good coming out of Pebble (Beach) playing some solid rounds, I just hope I can keep that going and avoid the few mistakes I made today."